We recently returned from a business trip to New Orleans (and before everyone asks – no, it wasn’t during Mardi Gras!), which was host to the international convention for Keller Williams Realty International. The trip yielded many new ideas and philosophies for our business, but I won’t bore you with that right now. Instead, we want to share with you our five favorite things about The Big Easy.

5) Everything but Bourbon Street – We got to our hotel at about 1:00am on Friday night, and while our initial intention was to find a blues club and a glass of wine, I thought our late arrival would surely shelve these plans. One of our friends had arrived earlier, and in waiting for us, had brewed himself a pot of coffee, and there wasn’t any way he was going to let us go to bed without a quick walk down Bourbon Street. Our hotel was two blocks from Bourbon Street, so within a couple of minutes we were introduced to New Orlean’s most renowned destination.

I won’t get into everything we saw, smelled, or stepped on, but we all left a little wide-eyed. The street is woven in debauchery, and the seams are stitched with alcohol and waste. If you’ve been to Bourbon Street, I don’t need to describe it. If you haven’t been to Bourbon Street, you probably don’t want me to. I’m thankful that we were in New Orleans for several more nights, and that our experience of the city wasn’t defined by this one late night walk.

4) Architecture – Bourbon Street is located in a neighborhood called the French Quarter, and if you go on either side of Bourbon Street, the appeal of New Orleans grows considerably. The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans, although not necessarily the most well-built. Most buildings share a wall with the neighboring building, and they don’t necessarily match in size, color, or style – which makes for an interesting study in contrast. Many walls aren’t square, nor are their floors level – but the exacting nature of the engineering is not what generates the appeal. These buildings give visitors a sense of history, and begins to impart a silent understanding of the city to its visitors. This city is resilient, as are its people.

3) Music - I told everyone that asked me about my upcoming trip to New Orleans that I was most excited about finding a blues club and enjoying the music with a glass of wine and a smoking cigar. Many of the clubs on Bourbon Street did have live bands, but they weren’t what I was hoping for. I thought for sure that off of Bourbon there had to be a place where I would recognize a familiar riff off a steel guitar, the warble of a harmonica, or the haunting melody of an organ. On Monday night, despite my exhaustion, Andy and Dennis talked me into delaying sleep to continue our search, and it resulted in the most memorable night of the trip.

We ended up on Bourbon Street, right at its start, at a watering hole called “The Blues Club.” We had had our doubts on previous visits, but when we walked in on this night, it was obvious that more locals than tourists were there, and they had come to hear “Rooster and the Chicken Hawks.” I don’t know anything about Rooster, and the club was dark, but I’m guessing he’s no younger than 75, and he was dressed to the 9′s in a powder blue, pinstriped, luminescent suit and pristine white leather ankle-high disco boots. My wine might have been in a plastic cup that night, but we were drinking the blues from a hose. If you’re ever in New Orleans, “Rooster and the Chicken Hawks” rock The Blues Club most Sunday and Monday nights.

2) Food - Andy should probably write this paragraph :) Andy is about 150 lbs and eats more than anyone I’ve ever seen. This was never more obvious than when we were in New Orleans. We ate gator sausage and crawfish remoulade  at “The Gumbo Shop” (although a couple in our attendance have had better gumbo elsewhere), we drank coffee and ate beignets at “Cafe Beignet“, filet blange and bananas foster at “Brennan’s“, pizza and calzones at “Angeli’s on Decatur“, and key-lime pie at “Crescent City Brewhouse.” All in all – the food here is decadent, and worth every one of the three-plus pounds we’ll all have to wrestle off at the gym.

1) The best part of New Orleans – the people. I have to think that the average living wage in New Orleans is far less than that of Seattle, but you can’t tell it from the faces of  the inhabitants. There are exceptions of course, but the people of New Orleans are either well-medicated or genuinely happy. There’s a sense of community here that we haven’t seen in other large cities – even more than what we’ve seen in most small towns. The cabbies all wave to each other, and you can’t walk down the street without seeing “Who Dat?” on a t-shirt or as graffiti on the wall. I have to imagine that enduring through an event like Hurricane Katrina and it’s aftermath will give an entire town perspective, and that a collective celebration of a recent Super Bowl victory might bring that same town some unity, but I think that what this town and its people share transcends an event or two.

Thank you New Orleans for being such gracious hosts to a bunch of real estate agents. Who dat?!

I just listened to a great call with an eye towards what we can expect in the year 2010 in the housing and rate market.  A great point was brought up about the cost of waiting.  Right now the government has pushed some major incentives into the market.  In December of 2008 the government announced a purchasing program that pushed rates roughly 1% lower than where they were the previous month, and had been for almost a year.

The Government is also allowing for a TRUE TAX CREDIT of $8000 for first time home buyers that is set to expire in April.  These 2 things can make a huge difference for a first time home buyer.  If you wait to buy and rates go up the roughly 1% that most experts are forecasting, you would be looking at a cost of about 5% of your loan amount upfront to buy down your mortgage rate back down to current levels, on a $200,000 loan that is $10,000.  Add to that the loss of the tax rebate, that is nearly $20,000, or about 10% of the purchase amount.  A more impressive number is the lifetime cost of a mortgage that is 1% higher than the available rate today.  The 30 year cost of a $200,000 loan with a 1% rate increase is $45,000.

This is a call to action, if you are debating buying your first house, or moving up to a larger home, please consider the cost of waiting.

help

One of the most frustrating forms of a real estate transaction of late is the “short sale.” We’ve had a lot of questions lately about this kind of sale, so I want to address some of the primary questions and myths.

1) A boy named Sue: There are a lot of misconceptions about short sales, starting with their name. A “short sale” is not a denotation of time – short sales actually take a long time to close. A short sale is a real estate transaction where the seller owes more for the property than the property is currently worth. In other words, the seller doesn’t have any equity and in order to sell, the bank is going to have to agree to accepting less than what they’re owed. For example, John Doe bought a property in 2007 for $380,000. It’s now 2010, and the local real estate market has tumbled. In a “choose-your-own-adventure” twist, let’s say that John (1) got divorced, (2) lost his job, (3) is transferred out of state, (4) develops a medical condition that forces a move, or (5) simply can’t afford his home anymore. John’s house is now worth $340,000, and since closing costs for most sellers run about 9% of the purchase price, if he was able to sell his home for $340,000 his net proceeds would be $340,000 (sales price) – $30,600 (closing costs), or $309,400. John owes the bank $380,000, so in order to sell, either John has to come up with $70,600 (which he doesn’t have), or (more likely) the bank is going to have to accept $70,600 less than what they are owed. The bank is going to end up short – so, this is a short sale.

2) Mr. & Mrs. Scott Free…: For a seller, deciding to sell your home as a short sale is not an easy one, and so we are always going to encourage our clients to consult with a bankruptcy attorney and their financial adviser. The primary benefits of a short sale to a seller will be reflected in their credit report – if they want to buy a home again in the next 2-3 years, then a short sale will be less damaging to their credit than a foreclosure and/or bankruptcy. The other benefit is simply timing – due to the overwhelming amount of short sales in recent history, the government has instituted The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act which runs through 2012. Under the provisions of this act, sellers that short sale their home will be forgiven the potential tax burden that would otherwise occur because of debt forgiveness. For example, if the bank forgave John Doe (in the example above) a debt of $70,000, the IRS would normally treat that as taxable income, and now John Doe owes taxes on the amount the bank forgave. Because of The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, this forgiven debt will not be taxed, and John won’t owe taxes because of it. There are exceptions to this act, which is why we encourage our clients to speak to their lawyer and their financial adviser. Still – the primary benefit of selling a home as a short sale is that it can be less damaging to your credit.

3) …or not? Why wouldn’t I sell my home as a short sale? While the bank may agree to accept less to get the property sold, this doesn’t always leave the seller off the hook for the remainder of the balance. Indeed, there are cases where foreclosure is a better option for clients than a short sale (in short, talk to a lawyer and your financial adviser). If the bank (or banks) has agreed to a short sale, they’ll often forgive most of the debt, and may ask the the seller to sign a promissory note for a lesser amount, perhaps in the form of an interest-free or low-interest long-term loan. In a short sale the seller may not get off completely scott-free, and may have remaining debt after the sale of the home. Still, this debt will generally be much less than the amount forgiven.

4) I want to sell my home as a short sale – what should I know and do? Contact a bankruptcy attorney and discuss your options (if you don’t currently have a bankruptcy attorney, call us for a referral to one). It might cost a couple of hundred dollars, but it could save your credit and a lot of pain and suffering. Contact a financial adviser to see how a short sale or bankruptcy would affect your assets and the future of your assets. Contact a listing agent that has experience marketing short sale properties, and make sure that they work with an experienced negotiator that is going to negotiate on your behalf with the bank. Be prepared – this is usually a long and frustrating process, but working with a team of capable people will save you some suffering. We have enough experience to know what banks will and won’t pay for, and which banks are going to take a long time (national franchise banks) and those that might respond more quickly (local banks).

5) Who pays the real estate agents? And the excise tax? We don’t work for free (not on purpose anyway), and the State of Washington is going to want their 1.78% excise tax on the sale of your home, so a lot of people wonder how these get paid in a short sale transaction. For the most part the bank pays these fees. They usually negotiate these fees down, so the real estate agents might make a little less, and the buyer might have to kick in a little money to get the bank to move forward to closing. The State of Washington doesn’t forgive excise tax easily, so the banks have to pay excise tax if they’ve agreed to a short sale.

6) I’ve heard buying a short sale can be a great value. They can be, but for a buyer, there’s nothing short about a short sale. The process can take 6 weeks or 6 months (even longer – one of our short sales took 2 years!). The seller doesn’t have any money, so the properties usually aren’t in great condition and they aren’t going to be paying for any repairs. Yes – there is value to be had, but only for the patient. If you’re looking for a real value, focus on bank-owned properties. There’s a reason banks agree to short sales – on average short sale properties cost the bank about 15% less than if they were to take that same property through the entire foreclosure process.

Moral of the story: if you’re thinking about selling your home as a short sale (or if you’re a buyer thinking of purchasing a short sale property), you need to call us. Everyone’s situation is different, so the internet won’t give you the answers you need. Let us sit down with you and go over your options. We’re happy to help even if we don’t end up listing your property. Please fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch to help counsel you through this difficult process.

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By now you’ve probably heard: The $8,000 Tax Credit has been extended!

And you’re thinking, “I’ve been wanting to buy a home… maybe there’s something to this procrastination thing, after all.” In this case, you’d be right; The last go-round provided up to $8,000 to homebuyers who had not owned a home in the past 3 years, and whose income was $75,000 for single taxpayers and $150,000 for married taxpayers filing joint returns.

In recognition of your patience and wisdom, you are now eligible for the Sweetened Deal: For home purchases occurring after November 6, 2009, the new income limits are $125,000 for single taxpayers and $225,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Be prepared to prove it!

Due to the very real potential for fraud, you will be required to prove that you have not owned a home in the last 3 years, however, the credit can be allocated to the person who has not owned previously, in cases where parents are assisting with a purchase, or where one member of an unmarried couple has previously owned.

Saving for a downpayment?

Another element of the new version is that it allows prospective home buyers who believe they qualify for the tax credit to reduce their income tax withholding. Reducing tax withholding (up to the amount of the credit) will enable the buyer to accumulate cash by raising his/her take home pay. This money can then be applied to the downpayment.

Keep the Cabin!

Also of note is that ownership of a vacation home, or rental property that was not used as a primary residence, does not disqualify a buyer as a first-time home buyer.

Upgrade your digs.

The most significant change to the ‘bonus round’ homebuyer tax credit is the addition of a ‘move-up buyer’ credit. This provision allows for a tax credit of up to $6,500 to homebuyers who have lived in the same residence for 5 of the last 8 years, on purchases up to $800,000.

You’re Not from Around Here?

Anyone who is not a nonresident alien (as defined by the IRS) and who has owned and resided in a principal residence in the United States for at least five consecutive years of the eight years prior to the purchase date can claim the tax credit if they meet the income limits.

Get Educated.

The income limits for move-up buyers are the same as for first-timers, and the allowable credit amount is graduated at the same rate, so please speak with your accountant for details on how your specific situation may be affected.

Some Restrictions Apply.

In order to qualify, all purchases- both first-time and move-up, must be completed on or before April 30, 2010 (or purchased by June 30, 2010 with a binding sales contract signed by April 30, 2010).

The Fine Print.

If you’re considering purchasing a home, and want to take a look at the tax credit qualification and application process, here’s a link to download the IRS Form 5405

The First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit Expires November 30, 2009 That means you have limited time to find a home before it’s too late. It is recommended that you enter into contract prior to October 15 if you wish to close before the tax credit expires. With closing timelines stretching anywhere from 30-50 days, if you want to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit and low interest rate environment, you should take action soon!.

What is the Definition of a First Time Homebuyer?
The law defines “first time homebuyer” as a buyer who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase. For married taxpayers, the law tests the homebuyership history of both the home buyer and his/her spouse.

Who is Eligible?
First time homebuyers purchasing any kind of home–new or resale–are eligible for the tax credit. To qualify for the tax credit, a home purchase must occur on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009. For the purposes of the tax credit, the purchase date is the date when closing occurs and the title to the property transfers to the home owner.
Income limitations of $75,000 for single taxpayers and $150,000 for married taxpayers who file a joint tax return apply to this tax credit. However, taxpayers who earn slightly more than the limits can apply for a reduced tax credit.

What Type of Home Qualifies?
Any home purchase qualifies, including single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums, manufactured homes and houseboats. Qualifying homes may be an existing home, new home or a home the owner contracted to build. Those who own a vacation home or rental homes that are not their principal residence are also eligible for the tax credit if they buy a principal residence.

Buy Now and Take Advantage of This Tax Credit
Now is the time to buy a home you might otherwise have not been able to purchase. Contact Cody Touchette at Mortgage Advisory Group today for free professional advice on this program and for fast, easy loan qualification. Need a referral to a great Mortgage Advisor? Call 425-317-8000 and we will ensure you get the help you need. Your Future is Our Focus.

“Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods? Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?” Bonnie Tyler, 1985, (“Holding out for a Hero“, from the Footloose soundtrack)

A common theme in the modern world is the wildly optimistic, hopelessly hopeful, against-all-odds rescue story. Maidens in distress, burning buildings, meteors plummeting to earth: all require a superhuman, faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap-tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound kind of rugged individual who sizes up desperate situations and makes the right snap decisions at a moments notice.

If you’ve been awake the last 2 years, you’ve probably caught wind of the fact that the world economy could use a little intervention f rom the man of steel, or just about anyone who’s willing to assume the mantle. Just to be clear, I’m not volunteering; I look terrible in tights, and tend to go pale at the sight of blood.

However, an article I came across in BusinessWeek got me thinking about what this economy presents in terms of opportunity. As many of the business leaders interviewed mention, the shift of focus toward growth and optimism is happening, and it will be those who have the courage to take the leap of faith toward opportunity who stand to reap the greatest reward.

2008 was a brutal year for real estate. From the sub-prime meltdown in August of 2007, through the Bear-Stearns, Lehman Brothers debacles, and the subsequent banking crisis, the financial world has been in a constant state of upheaval. The home financing standards pendulum, which was tilted toward ludicrously loose (think “Liar’s Loans”), swung a full 180 to be so restrictive as to dramatically impact the ability of financially healthy businesses from securing  operating capital. And, of course, there’s the wildly volatile stock market- what to make of that?

Signs that the worst may be over have arrived in the form of restrictive new legislation, such as the HVCC and HERA laws governing appraisal procedures and lending disclosure timelines. Both of these are, in my view, knee jerk legislation aimed at appeasing a few big lobbies who’ve wanted to get their fingers into some pies that aren’t theirs. I fully anticipate that we’ll see modifications to these rules and relaxation of some of the more heinously restrictive requirements. It will take time, but I believe those changes will come.

Back to our hero! If jobs are the crux of the problem, and consumer indexes won’t reflect real growth without them, it seems the place to start is with those businesses that have the ability to hire. However, as I mentioned earlier, the funds for businesses have been scarce in this downturn. Even firms with the financials to justify growth investment have been hesitant, or unable to, due to the paucity of affordable financing.

We’ve seen attempts from various government agencies to fill the role of hero, and have a legacy of debt, entitlements, and bureaucracy to show for it. Well, here’s a new idea- how about private investment funds to the rescue?! I tripped across this last night, and found it pretty intriguing. I’m not crazy about the outfit  this gal’s wearing (um, hon- mini skirts and barstools are a combo best left to co-eds, not business professionals on-camera- and yes, I know this is ‘happy hour’!), but the message is certainly worthy of consideration. What do you think?

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